MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine News Agency (PNA) will soon sign a news cooperation agreement with Russia's state-run Sputnik, a deal that will involve republishing the Russian site's content on the PNA website.
Presidential Communications Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco said on Monday, November 12, that the agreement is just "awaiting signature."
He was speaking at the Senate hearing on the proposed 2019 budget of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).
During his presentation, Egco listed the news cooperation deal as among the ways state-run news outlet PNA is expanding its reach and "fostering news cooperation and exchange with foreign counterparts."
He told Rappler later on that the only reason why the agreement has not yet been signed is because PNA and Sputnik are still finalizing the location for the signing ceremony.
Republishing articles of 'propaganda' site
News and Information Bureau Director Gigi Agtay explained to Rappler that the news cooperation agreement includes the possibility of PNA republishing Sputnik articles and vice versa.
Yet Sputnik, an online news outfit controlled by the Russian government, has been called a spreader of propaganda-fueled misinformation. Foreign Policy dubbed it the "BuzzFeed of Propaganda" while the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) has accused it of being part of the "Kremlin propaganda machine."
In an interview after the hearing, Agtay replied in the affirmative when asked if the news cooperation deal includes republishing of Sputnik content.
"Yeah, if it's relevant to the country or OFWs, overseas Filipinos in Russia," she said.
Asked how the PCOO would deal with Sputnik's reputation, Agtay said the PNA will not be publishing all kinds of content, limiting itself to news articles relevant to Filipinos.
"We're not going to republish everything, [just] anything that has relevance to the Philippines of human interest," she said.
Asked if they would be fact-checking Sputnik articles before reposting them, she said, "Of course we will."
Egco, for his part, does not see any problem with the impending deal "as long as we vet the content."
He also said PNA is not obliged to reprint or republish everything Sputnik publishes.
As for Sputnik's reputation possibly fueling administration critics' assertions that the presidency is encouraging online hate and propaganda, Egco said people are free to think what they will.
"We respect people's opinions, but we also value...the different opinions of everybody. Some people might look at it that way, some people might look at it the other way," he told Rappler.
Training sessions with Sputnik
PNA staff have apparently already had at least two training sessions with Sputnik staff.
In his Senate hearing presentation, Egco said one session for the editorial teams was held in Moscow only last October 28 to November 2.
Another session, on "multimedia concepts," was held from October 25 to November 3.
The PCOO had been warned against getting training on information dissemination from countries like Russia and China, which are known for controlling and even manipulating content.
"I think falling into this kind of pattern using different disinformation tactics could work against us as a nation," Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa had said during a Senate hearing on fake news in January.
The PCOO and the Russian Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications have agreed to cooperate in the field of state information dissemination, including media training of PCOO staffers in Russia.
The Philippines and Russia, in November 2017, signed 8 bilateral agreements, including a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Mass Communications. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.